Believing in a higher power is easy. Keeping the faith in the face of everyday reality is a different matter.
To his credit, Anberlin frontman Stephen Christian doesn't claim to have all the answers. He may be an unrepentant Republican, but the singer has an empathetic streak. And he's seen enough during his time on Earth–partly through his humanitarian volunteer work in Third World countries–to realize that sometimes there are no easy answers. That explains why on Anberlin's breakthrough disc, Cities , Christian often seems as confused as the rest of us. The chiming, stadium-sized rocker "Dismantle.Repair." has him declaring "I am the patron saint of lost causes", a line that's repeated in the album's epic choral closer "(*Fin)".
"I want to make sure that people know that I'm out here asking the same questions as them," the thoughtful Floridian says, on the line from a Cleveland, Ohio, tour stop. "And I don't care where people land–whether they are scared, agnostics, atheists, or Buddhists. I just want people to search and seek. Don't settle for covering your ears. It's important to put your hands down and listen to what's going on around you."
If that sounds like something you might normally hear out of the mouth of Bono, that's no accident. Like the U2 frontman, Christian is convinced that if you're going to make a major point, you need a large canvas. That explains why Cities is an unabashedly bold record, reaching for the theatrical heights of The Joshua Tree with tracks such as "Hello Alone". Not surprisingly, Christian cites Bono as a major inspiration, along with such rock 'n' roll hall of famers as Mick Jagger and Freddie Mercury. Clearly, he's a believer that you either go big or stay home.
"If you go to college and the professor is only at your grade level, what's the point?" he asks. "I try to listen to the greats, everyone from the Smiths to the Beatles. I'm not going to cite a bunch of underground bands as being influences because I want to be honest about who we are, not all artsy."
That said, Anberlin isn't without its left-of-centre dalliances on Cities . "Godspeed" almost out-emos the Warped hordes, while "There Is No Mathematics to Love and Loss" is synth-charged new wave at its most pile-driving.
The goal of the band, Christian admits, is to reach heights that most mortals only aspire to. And with Cities , Anberlin is already on its way.
"We wanted an epic-sounding record," he says. "We like the way that whenever you listen to a Queen record, it's almost as if you're already in the stadium ready to sing along. We wanted our record to be bigger than life, and bigger than our band is."
Still, he knows exactly where Anberlin stands in the world. While Christian doesn't have all the answers, he's humble enough to know that he's lucky to be in a position where he's able to influence the fans the band has started to amass.
"I went vegetarian for a year when I was 15 because Morrissey was," he says. "I didn't know the first thing about animal rights or animal cruelty–all I knew was that if Morrissey is doing it, I'm doing it. That's the kind of silent responsibility that we have as entertainers. No matter what you might have justified in your head as being okay, you have to think there's someone out there who your beliefs might not be good for."
Anberlin plays the Plaza on Monday (April 16).